Online Assignment Submission Dates

I would like to discuss the submission of assignments for an online course. 


The setting is the following:  the target learners are language teachers wanting to learn how to teach onlne.  Each learner is given access to the online course learning platform on the first day of the course, and not before.  Each learner can see the schedule for the submission date of each assignment.  The course consists of four modules and there are four assignments per module.  Each learner should discuss and comment on the postings of the members of the cohort.  The course lasts six weeks. 

The Issue: Should learners be able to post their assignments onto the learning platform before the due date according to the schedule? 

My opinion:  I have been an online learner on several occasions similar to the above setting and what usually happens  is that learners cannot keep up with the schedule for a variety of reasons and these are dealt with in private with the online tutor, or sometimes online as a group activity.  My most recent experience is new to me and I find that it is contrary to everything I have learnt and experienced as an online learner and as an online tutor.  What is this recent experience? Well, an online course in which learners post Task 4 when Task 2 is only due the next day.  What does this mean in reality? For me personally, it makes me feel as if I’m being rushed through a tunnel on a high speed train.  I’m trying to do my own tasks and contribute but can’t fully appreciate the online collaborative learning experience of being a member of an interactive learning group. 

If for personal reasons, a learner cannot take part in the future and has done a task in advance, I see no reason why this cannot be posted to the online tutor who will guarantee that it is posted at the appropriate date.  This has also happened in courses I have been in and this has not caused any problem.

Request :  I would really like to hear your opinions on this issue as, in my limited experience, it seems to me that timely postings of required assignments is a vital element contributing to the success or failure of an online course for this particular group of learners, in other words, future online tutors.  I may, of course, be wrong and would really appreciate to learn more about this.


21 thoughts on “Online Assignment Submission Dates

  1. Ultra fast BaW e-learner Moira,
    I had to read the information several times and could not understand what you mean by: “I’m trying to do my own tasks and contribute but can’t fully appreciate the online collaborative learning experience of being a member of an interactive learning group”. Is it that tasks do not allow you to have time to reflect on the ideas presented by others and see how participants find ways to learn from and teach others in the process? I am not sure if you meant that.
    I have no experience in online teaching but I wonder if following a calendar so strictly is necessary to achieve the course objectives or if letting participants jump ahead or backwards, depending on their previous knowledge, ability and interests, will work too.
    Interesting topic you have brought forward, indeed!!!

  2. Dear Moira,

    I think that one of the multiple advantages of e-learning over traditioanl f2f courses is flexibility. Participants of online or blended courses should be able to set up their own schedules. Each participant knows when they can devote time to their online assignments. I belive that it is the e-designer’s task to create individual, pair, and group activities. Those who complete individual taks faster, can always help others in their endeavour. For the pair and group activities, participants will have to come to terms with others in the course to complete their work.

    my 2 cents,


  3. Hi Moira,

    You wrote:

    “If for personal reasons, a learner cannot take part in the future and has done a task in advance, I see no reason why this cannot be posted to the online tutor who will guarantee that it is posted at the appropriate date. This has also happened in courses I have been in and this has not caused any problem.”

    I think that this approach is dependent on the manner in which the online course has been structured. Do the tasks require or would individuals’ work benefit from peer review and discussion?

    It’s been my experience that the learning can be enhanced by the discourse that happens on a dynamic basis around posted assignments.

    In a constructivist environment, this ongoing discourse can be fertile ground for new learning experiences.

    I teach in a blended setting which has onground meetings at both the front and back ends with online classes sandwiched in between. The students are required (a university mandate) to post their assignments and then to make at least two meaningful contributions daily through posting their responses to the work of others.

    This model is consistent with others that have been the basis for courses that I have taken online.

    BTW, I’d be lonely in cyberspace if everyone posted their assignments then left for parts unknown 😉

    A bit of digression here…Your blog is “terrific” and so professional looking. I guess that I’m going to have to start blogging again 😉


  4. Hi Moira!
    I’ve been looking at God knows how many blogs in the last 12 hours, and yet each one surprises me by showing the uniqueness of their owner.. 🙂
    To me, your layout suggests “college” and “informed choices”.. yet don’t ask me to account for my impression, please! :p
    As regards your question, as an online learner I’ve experienced both cases, and each seems to have their strong points, and their drawbacks. As an online facilitator, I’d prefer everyone to be working on (approximately) the same issue at the same time, but I then I firmly believe the task should force course participants to refer to either previous tasks (so that they need to have carried out task 2 in order to face task 3 or 4), or to other partners’ replies (so that they need to keep a similar pace). Otherwise, there seems to be no reason why I, as a learner, should be deprived of the flexibility e-learning has to offer!
    Sorry for the long posting! >:D

  5. Dear Moira, your subject is very interesting! Apart from participating in BaW I have very limited experiences of e-learning. Having established that,my opinion is that while having the opportunity to study at your own pace you still need to follow a certain schedule in the discussions. The idea of scaffolding is really what helps a learner to reach above herself.

  6. Moira – first of all my congratulations on your Blog – and its interesting topic.

    I am currently doing an online course and have also experienced minor panic when some eager participants post their tasks almost within moments of them appearing on the boards. In our case, tasks are not published in advance. They are posted on a Sunday and we all have one week to post our responses and discuss them in our groups. I think this is a fair way of organising the course – offering a week-long “window of opportunity”.

    On the other hand, I have also felt frustration with those who (perfectly legitimately) post their tasks at the end of the week, since this limits the time for responses from the group before the next task arrives. In this case, it’s more like the train rushing through the tunnel comes to a screaming halt!

  7. Neat blog, Moira! Thanks for inviting us from your present course.

    For me, the issue of working in sequence is a lot more important with second language learners. In a teacher training course, I like the flexibility of letting people progress at their own rate. For me, that’s part of the beauty of e-learning: people can jump ahead or reply to an old topic as best suits them.

    The one capability I have to slow things down is to keep later discussion forums closed until the timing is better. Within just over a week, everyone will be completely on their own time as we move into independent work on projects. So our progress has been:

    Module 1: everyone in sequence
    Module 2: most everyone in sequence; some moving on to Module 3
    Module 3: most everyone in sequence; some have tried one tool already
    Project Work: completely schedule-free

    Our discussions will also fall off as people focus on their final projects.

    More than you wanted to hear, no doubt! Best to all, Emily

  8. Hi Moira,I am so sorry to be the last one to post on your great and elegant looking blog.Excellent work.I guess we feel time is pressing and “crushing” us,but it worth !The topicis indeed interesting.You know what Moira? If I was not paritcciapting in BaW,I would have been the first to finish!I think Emily is right in this point.Keep the good work up!

  9. Hi Moira and all the others who replied to the blog,

    I just have to add my thanks that there is this discussion about feeling overwhelmed and pressured to search every site and follow every thread and then post early (or feel late in posting) because others are moving faster than I am. In fact, I feel more like a lurker than a participant in this class because, after I finish reading what other people have written–for hours!!!–I am too tired to reply. It’s bad enough that my own mind hypertexts (or whatever would be the verb form), but then to try to follow the thinking processes of everyone else here discussing so much in new language that is unfamiliar to me—help! I feel like I’m drowning. I hope I come to a place where this feels more comfortable.

    Right now I’d just like to be in a f2f classroom, looking over the shoulder of a classmate to see (not just read) what she has done and to open my dogeared, sticky-noted book with highlighted passages and to raise my hand and ask the teacher and get immediate feedback.


  10. Moira,

    I empathize with both you and Jan right now. I am also feeling so overwhelmed every time I go to the class site, because there is so much to see. And when you are stuck with a technical issue, there is no one to ask for help. Of course you can ask classmates and the instructor for help, but it’s just not quite the same as being pysically there.

    I am really feeling the isolation and loneliness of not being able to see and discuss things with people f2f too. But, when it just isn’t possible, what can you do? I don’t have any professional development opportunities here in Taiwan, so I have to do what I can to learn!

    I’m definitely feeling some of these things. I wonder if it will dissipate with more exposure to online learning?


  11. Dear Jan, Mary, and everyone else:
    Believe me, there’s nobody on the list who’s not feeling overwhelmed and under pressure when they log onto our “wonderful” learning community… the synergia over 200 enthusiastic members can generate is too much for anyone!
    Please allow me to post here something I shared with one or two BAWers during week 1 (I thought of emailing you, but feel too tired to go browsing for your addresses!):

    A few things to remember during BAW:
    1) You don’t HAVE TO do everything suggested, set your priorities and try whatever might suit you at this stage of your professional development. There’ll be more BAWSin future, and all the material presented will remain available for the rest of the year, so work at your own pace! I think last year I only “learned” well what we covered in weeks 1 and 2, but during the year I’ve applied what was covered in the rest, one step at a time!

    2) All synchronous sessions are recorded and available online later, so don’t stay up to 3 am just to listen to someone talking about a tool you don’t feel ready to try yet! 😉

    3)ALWAYS REMEMBER “the most important thing about tech”: it’s just a tool to build bonds among PEOPLE, so whatever happens, stay tuned and “speak up if a problem arises”!

    And if you feel like “raising your hand and asking for help”, and are in need for immediate feedback… look for any BAWer at Yahoo MSN! (you’ll hardly see me online these days, yet try buzzing me!)

    Hope you feel better soon!!! 🙂
    Yahoo ID: gladysbaya

  12. Hi Moira,

    I wonder why you note no bells and whistles… can you add pictures? I suppose that’s a bell of sorts. Anyway, it looks fine.

    My opinion is sort of opposite so it makes for good contrast. We have a number of topics in module three, and there are several discussions going. I love being able to pick and choose, especially since the activities don’t build on each other. I guess I’m the sort of person who resents external, limiting structures. I wonder why one person feels rushed by options and another enjoys the freedom of it? Those are my thoughts on your topic. Keep blogging!

  13. Hi Moira,

    What a great blog! At one point I thought that I would never be able to catch up with the others. Then, I read a comment about this issue in our discussions and relaxed. I still feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading that we have to do, but I enjoy the amount of new things that I am learning.

    I am concerned now about the final project. It looks to me, like it is not very different from what we have already done. How do you feel about it?

  14. I think there are quite a lot of complex issues that arise from the question about early postings.
    I agree that flexibility is one of the attractions of online learning, but there may be a tension between complete flexibility, and meaningful collaboration. So before a course starts it needs to be made clear to applicants if any collaborative work involved means that there isn’t complete flexibility. Learners need to sign up to the collaborative approach.

    The tutor needs to manage this. I’ve tutored, and learned online. My tutoring method is to give learners suggested start and finish dates for any activity, and to make it clear which are collaborative and which are not.

    I don’t really mind if the individual activities come in ahead of time, though it may be wise if tutors reassure the others that they don’t have to race to catch up.

    I would not be happy if postings for collaborative activities were posted ahead of schedule, unless this was cleared with me in advance. I do understand that sometimes the work needs to be done in advance, to fit round busy lives, but in that case I would expect the learner to hold off before they actually posted, or send their posting to me so that I could post it to them when the right time came.

  15. What a GREAT example of (my) being frustrated! Just submitted two “Says” and nothing said!
    The tech stuff can be frustrating and the feeling of being ‘intimidated’ because folks are posting early is somewhat put-off. My initial reaction to Emily’s due dates posting was “This is too much!” But, I did settle down and just did my best.
    I was also frustrated for lack of f2f. I’ve been teaching for many years and miss(ed) the contact. Not that I don’t care if I never go back to the classroom, I do, but this is becoming a bit (positively) heady for me. I really am beginning to see and understand the potential for online learning.
    As to what Mary said: THIS is still a big issue for me. I miss the physical ‘behind your shoulder’ approach to tutoring so this is difficult for me. Now . . for a tech question: How DO I delete the two mistakes above?!

  16. Hi, as both participant and instructor of online courses I ‘hear’ you on the pressure that online environments can put on both teachers and students. THey can be unrealistic. In a recent course I taught, I hit a wall and had to tell people in the middle of it I needed a break. THis served to dampen a momentum that had been rolling out of control, and the dampening effect was not welcome either. In subsequent courses, I’ve built in breaks, a few days with no scheduled activities where everyone can have a breather and then resume refreshed. What do you think of that approach? – Vance

  17. I have certainly shared Vance’s experience, the feeling that online courses go on on a 24/7 basis can be as energizing as overwhelming… I like the idea of built-in breaks… Another strategy that has worked well in my experience is to have deadlines for periods… for example, assignment #1, published on day 1, is to be submitted between days 2 and 4. And the more experience I get, the more in favour I get of publishing all tasks (especially final tasks) in advance (not that participants can submit their answers then!. As an online learner, I think that gives me great flexibility and encourages a global perspective of the course, a right I most appreciate to have! – Gladys

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